September 25, 2013

Queens As a Metaphor for the World: On Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens 1


Using the New York City borough of Queens as a linchpin, Jonathan Lethem’s latest novel questions the American twentieth century’s “great comedy: that Communism had never existed, not once. So what was there to oppose?”

September 24, 2013

The Heart of My Life, the Life of My Heart 0


Not all books can make us cry and those that do are often so shamefully sentimental that we can’t easily admit to reading them, let alone crying with them. This, however, is not the case with Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life, a novella-length text in three chapters, which produces in its reader tears of the most literary kind.

September 20, 2013

Zen and the Art of Pie Making 0


A great pie is a product of both skill and wisdom; as, I believe, is a great life.

September 18, 2013

More Tire Tracks in the Rose Beds: On David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger 5


If this new project, hyped as one of the great literary reveals of our time, cannot help us find Salinger, what can?

September 18, 2013

Speculative Evidence: Ben Urwand’s The Collaboration 1


It is the unholy alliance of Hitler and Mickey that tees up Urwand’s central claim: from 1933 to 1939, the Jewish moguls who ran Hollywood’s studio system “collaborated” with the Nazi regime, censoring and even quashing films that represented the German state in a negative light.

September 13, 2013

Something Stark and Essential: On Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift 0


The writing is clear and economical, and to Maksik’s credit it never competes with Jacqueline’s ongoing plight. Add a plot so tightly focused on her immediate hardships and the unbreakable link to her mother, whose voice comes to her in memory with advice both wanted and unwanted, and Maksik seems to have set up an absolute gauntlet for himself.

September 11, 2013

Childlike Simplicity: On J.M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus 4


David is the vehicle for Coetzee’s effort to explore belief’s ability to conquer doubt — more particularly, the doubt of Simón — and of the way fantasies can coax even doubt itself into becoming a form of trust, of faith, of belief.

September 10, 2013

The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss by Nick Coleman 0


Nick Coleman, a long-time music journalist in the UK, was made aware of his body’s terrible capriciousness when one of his ears stopped working. It left a dull blankness for a while, and then a building cacophony of tinnitus in both ears so severe that balance and concentration became almost impossible. Burdened with what could have been a ruinous impediment, he reaffirms his love of music.

September 4, 2013

Marisha Pessl’s Stirring Second Act 19


Marisha Pessl’s writing has done a lot of growing up in the seven years since Special Topics in Calamity Physics was published. Her new novel is bigger, more ambitious, and far more satisfying than her splashy debut.

August 30, 2013

Using Every Part of the Whale: On Peter Orner’s Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge 0


What follows are love affairs in hotel rooms, quiet suicides in basements, and monologues about being known for wearing goofy hats. What follows are stories that don’t begin and end in the same place, at least not emotionally. There are whole stories in what isn’t said.